Marla Ruzicka (December 31, 1976 – April 16, 2005) was an American activist-turned-aid worker. She believed that combatant governments had a legal and moral responsibility to compensate the families of civilians killed or injured in military conflicts.
In 2003, Ruzicka founded the Campaign for Innocent Victims in Conflict (CIVIC), an organization that counted civilian casualties and assisted Iraqi victims of the 2003 US invasion of Iraq. In 2005, she was killed by a roadside bomb in Iraq.
Born in Lakeport, California, Ruzicka attended Long Island University's Friends World Program, and spent four years traveling throughout Costa Rica, Kenya, Cuba, Israel, and Zimbabwe. After graduating in 1999, Ruzicka volunteered for the San Francisco-based organizations Rainforest Action Network and Global Exchange.
Afghanistan and Iraq
Prior to launching CIVIC in Iraq, she was based in Peshawar, Pakistan, and later Kabul, Afghanistan. Under the auspices of Global Exchange, she pressured the US government to set up a fund for Afghan families harmed in Operation Enduring Freedom. However, she soon struck out on her own to form CIVIC, and arrived in Kabul only a few days after the Taliban were removed from power. In Afghanistan, she began conducting a grassroots survey on the military campaign effects on Afghan civilians, in order to apply for compensation and aid. On April 7, 2002, she protested outside the U.S. Embassy in Kabul, alongside several civilians who had lost relatives as the result of U.S. air strikes.
In July 2002, Ruzicka began working with USAID and the Senate Appropriations Committee to allocate money to rebuild the homes of families that had suffered losses as a result of military action. After receiving CIVIC's first report, Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vermont) sponsored legislation to provide $10 million in U.S. aid to Iraqi civilians who had been harmed by the US military. He said, "Marla Ruzicka is out there saying, 'Wait, everybody. Here is what is really happening. You'd better know about this.' We have whistle blowers in industry. Maybe sometimes we need whistle blowers in foreign policy."
She traveled to Baghdad after the April 2003 U.S. invasion. CIVIC's efforts were featured on Nightline and CNN, as well as in The New York Times and Elle Magazine. "With a shoestring budget, almost no staff and a bundle of energy, Ruzicka has already had more impact on more lives than many seasoned K Street lobbyists," The Washington Post reported in 2004.
Ruzicka and her Iraqi translator, Faiz Ali Salim, were killed by a suicide car bombing on the Baghdad Airport Road on April 16, 2005. More than 600 people attended her funeral in her hometown of Lakeport; Barbara Boxer and Sean Penn were among those who spoke at her memorial service. There were also memorial services in New York, Washington, D.C., Baghdad, Kabul, and San Francisco.
According to Rolling Stone, "Ruzicka is perhaps the most famous American aid worker to die in any conflict of the past ten or twenty years. Though a novice in life — she had less than four years of professional humanitarian experience — her death resonated far beyond the tightly knit group of war junkies and policymakers who knew her. She stands as a youthful representative of a certain kind of not-yet-lost American idealism, and darkly symbolic of what has gone so tragically wrong in Iraq."
Depiction in film media
Film rights to Ruzicka's life story were purchased by Paramount Pictures in 2004. The studio also bought the rights to the book Sweet Relief: The Marla Ruzicka Story by Jennifer Abrahamson, who had begun collaborating on the book with Ruzicka before her death. Kirsten Dunst agreed to play Ruzicka in the movie scripted by Lorene Scafaria.
- "Faith Complex: Sarah Holewinski on Innocent Victims in Conflict (PART ONE)". Youtube. Retrieved 2010-12-02.
- Kessler, Glenn (August 23, 2004). "The Washington Post 23 August 2004 – U.S. Activist Mends Lives Torn by War". The Washington Post. Retrieved June 9, 2012.
- Johnson, Jason B. (April 24, 2005). "LAKEPORT: More than 600 mourn peace activist at service". San Francisco Chronicle.
- REITMAN, JANET (Jun 2, 2005). "The Girl Who Tried to Save the World: The heroic life and final days of Marla Ruzicka, an American martyr". Rolling Stone.
- Article by Jill Carroll about Marla's life
- Sweet Relief at the Internet Movie Database - film about Marla's life (to be released in 2011)
- CIVIC website
- News story on her death from The Washington Post
- A profile, from The Washington Post
- Obituary from The Guardian
- A blog of memories from Marla's friends
- Appreciation from Salon.com
- Remembering Marla Ruzicka (Uruknet.info)
- The results of CIVIC's massive campaign in Iraq
- Statement in honor of Marla Ruzicka: Sen. Barbara Boxer
- Sweet Relief: The Marla Ruzicka Story Biography published by Simon and Schuster
- My friend died helping Iraqi civilians (Obituary by Mark MacKinnon in the Toronto Globe and Mail)
- Glimpses of Marla. A tribute by thefullmonte.com